7 Teaching Procedures to Smash ITT

Table work, ITT (intensive table teaching), DTT (discrete trial training), are all ways of talking about working at the table.


The following teaching procedures are taken from the excellent Carbone et al (2010) paper. These teaching procedures will make table sessions, and pretty much all teaching, more effective. Most importantly, they get your learner to learn because they want to, not because they have to!

1. Pairing and Manding

When beginning a table session, pairing and manding is your first priority. You should present an array of reinforcing items for ‘free’ (no requesting necessary). Then it’s your job to follow your learner’s motivation, see what they are most motivated for among the items that are presented. To be sure that the item will function as a reinforcer, you should require them to mand for it, if they are willing to ask for it, then is most likely a reinforcer. This process helps you identify effective reinforcement for your table session, which is essential to promote good responses, and also decreasing the likelihood that your child will engage in escape motivated problem behaviour.


2. Stimulus Fading

Another method to prevent escape motivated problem behaviour (crying, whining, flopping etc when demands are placed) is to fade in the amount of demands. This will be relative to your child’s VR. A Variable Ratio schedule of reinforcement has been found to be the best schedule to maintain steady rates of responding (sorry got carried away there, but it is a juicy science). A VR is basically how many demands you can place before your learner loses interest. You should start at the lower end of your learners’ VR, for example if your learner has a VR of 2, you should start with 1 demand then reinforce, and increase the amount of demands each time until you reach the higher end of the VR which would be no more than 4. If the learner’s VR is 10, stick between 5 and 20 (half below, double above). It’s not just about the amount of responses; you should also fade in the effort and difficulty of responses (don’t probe acquisition skills (skills you’re teaching) too soon).


3. Differential reinforcement

If your learner responds well (not making errors, or getting a ‘yes’ on the probe (the first time you ask them)) then you should reinforce more. You can do this in various ways, either longer duration of an activity (e.g. giving your learner longer on the iPad), more than one reinforcer (e.g. iPad, slinky, and bubbles), or a higher quantity of a reinforcer (e.g. 3 crisps instead of 1). Equivalently, if your learner responds poorly (e.g. errors frequently on mastered targets, or gets a ‘no’ on a probe) then you should deliver less reinforcement. This process is referred to as differential reinforcement. Think of it as ‘performance related pay’.


4. Errorless Teaching

Throughout a table session you should minimise errors (your learner responding incorrectly) as much as possible. Frequent errors increase the likelihood of escape-motivated behaviour.

If your child errors this is the error correction procedure you should follow: –


Re-state the SD (the demand)

Prompt response


Re-state the SD

Fade on your prompt


Distracter (between 1 and 3 previously mastered skills)


Re-state the SD

Fade again on prompt if needed/let child respond independently


Effective prompting will also help minimise errors. You should follow the prompt schedule of most to least (go in with a higher prompt and fade as needed). Your prompts should be the most effective and least intrusive you can do. Remember to prompt as much as necessary to ensure a correct response while not over prompting when not needed. Each trial you run will be different. Don’t fade if you think an error is likely.


5. Pace of Instruction

Another teaching procedure to consider when at the table is the pace of instruction. A fast pace of instruction is important as it prevents the likelihood of escape motivated problem behavior. Using short ITI’s (inter trial intervals – the time between the learners last response and your next demand) gives less opportunity for problem behavior to occur, and also provides socially mediated reinforcement for your learner quicker. It is also worth paying attention to your learner’s latency (how long it takes your learner to respond to your demand) to responding, the longest time between a demand and a response should be 2 seconds, and anything longer should be error corrected. Basically, don’t hang about, get it done well and in a timely fashion.


6. Intersperse Instructions

When teaching a target at the table, you should be using a master pile; these are skills that have previously been mastered. The mastered targets are regarded as ‘easy’ tasks, and acquisition targets are regarded as ‘difficult’ tasks. Difficult tasks have been found to be associated with a worsening set of conditions due to higher errors, more effort, and less reinforcement (basically new targets are harder). It’s important to intersperse difficult tasks within the easy tasks – 80% easy, 20% difficult to help prevent this. This (hopefully) ensures loads of success.


7. Mix and Vary Tasks

This is short and simple. Research has shown if you repeat the same task over and over again, it’s boring! This can lead to an increase in escape-motivated behaviour. So mix demands across different verbal operants; listener responding, imitation, tact, intraverbal, visual etc.


I hope this all makes sense. I’m hoping to get a video of this to post it in action.

Smash ITT.

Reflexive MO article – Carbone + Tirri

14 Reinforcers for Older Learners

This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully gives some ideas for more age appropriate reinforcers for older learners. 

We should always try and keep things age appropriate, but not at the cost of losing reinforcers altogether!

  • Fruit Ninja
  • Temple Run
  • Flick Kick Football
  • Top Trumps
  • Lego
  • Puzzles
  • Books
  • Music
  • DVD
  • Mini Basketball Hoop
  • Scalectric
  • Nerf Vortex Howler
  • Flying Glider Planes
  • Remote Control Car


I’d love some more ideas, so please feel free to comment and add some!

16 of my Favourite Reinforcers

Over the years, I’ve built a pool of reinforcers that I like to give a go, and most of these are amongst my kit. 28ADDBBE-A6AA-4FF0-A10E-1C66C71B44C5IMG_1428

  1. Crazy Soap
  2. Bionic Putty
  3. Bubble Snake Blower
  4. Fibre Optic Fountain
  5. Bubble Lamp
  6. Balloons
  7. Water Balloon
  8. Moody Squeeze Fa
  9. Water Snake4504DB6A-55A6-43FA-A0F2-46F1B7238669
  10. Hot Water Bottle
  11. Slinky
  12. Expandable
  13. Flashing Bounce Spike
  14. Playdoh
  15. Spinning Top
  16. Bubbles

You can check out more ideas on my amazon list here.

Remember, these are just some ideas, there’s no guarantee they will serve as a reinforcer. Try them in different ways, think about what your learner will like, encourage them to try new things, and have fun!

I Love Pairing – 9 Tips to Pair Effectively

Pairing is a great chance to get to know what your learner likes, and how they like it. It’s a  time to be creative, and try things you may not usually do.


When I started at Treetops, pairing was the first thing they said I should do. I had no idea what pairing entailed, but they said ‘just have fun’. In the simplest explanation it is ‘having fun’ but it an analytical way (wow, analytical fun sounds boring).


Pairing is a great chance to be a big kid!


You should give reinforcers freely, with only the expectation that the learner stays with you. Place very few demands, keep reinforcers under your control (not freely accessible), and help the learner realise that the most fun can be had when you are around. We want our learners to be running too us, not away! 


There’s no time frame for pairing, it’s taken me 30 minutes before, and with some learners I don’t think I’ve ever fully paired with, each learner is different, and there are many variables to consider. We should adapt to our learners, some children love really enthusiastic therapists, and others prefer calmer approaches.


The process of pairing is based on stimulus stimulus pairing, the process of taking a neutral stimulus (the therapist) and associating them (pairing) with established reinforcers (learners’ favourite items).


Here are 9 tips to help you pair with the learner more effectively;

  • Be fun – if you’re not having fun, chances are your learner isn’t.
  • Relax – you’ll have more fun if you do!
  • Variety – use everything and anything at your disposal (including household items you can make fun).
  • Prepare – to an extent anyway, plan some fun activities, but don’t be disappointed if your learner isn’t interested (which can be devastating if you’ve spent time setting something up).
  • How does your learner like it? – you may set painting up with paint brushes etc, but maybe your learner wants to foot paint?
  • Go with the flow – mostly anyway, it’s important to follow your learners’ motivation, but you also don’t want them to dictate everything!
  • Be a giver not a taker – freely deliver lots of awesome things to your learner (for items such as a bouncy ball, you’re probably thinking ‘how can I get that back?’ Just offer something else the learner wants whilst taking back the bouncy ball, that way you’re still ‘giving’ even though you’ve taken back the ball).
  • Model – whether you work with a vocal learner or a signer, model the sign and/or vocal when delivering the items (remember, it’s not a requirement for the learner to emit a response (mand) during the pairing process, but if they do, deliver lots of the reinforcer).
  • Analyse – make notes of things your learner likes and dislikes, how they like it, how you can build on it, whether you’ll target them as mands etc. get to know your learner!


Another useful point to remember is that pairing isn’t permanent. If you’ve been on a school holiday, your learners not been well, or there’s been a big incident of problem behaviour, then it may be necessary to go back to pairing temporarily. It’s always good to start the session with some pairing. 


Pairing is so important, and shouldn’t be seen as something to rush through and get to the learning. This is the time you’ll get the learner to want to learn! Have fun. Smash it.

Reinforcement didn’t work…

To say ‘reinforcement didn’t work’ doesn’t make sense, if it didn’t increase the future likelihood of a behaviour it wasn’t reinforcement in the first place.

Reinforcement: anything that increases the future frequency of a behaviour.

For consultants and therapists, reinforcement is one of the biggest tools in our box. It will make sessions much more effective, and for parents can make life much easier.

Reinforcement is a consequence, something delivered after a behaviour. We reinforce behaviour, not people. For example, to say
‘I reinforced James for writing a cracking blog post’ would be wrong, we should say ‘I reinforced James’ blog writing behaviour’, and if you wanted to you could add the cracking bit after.

Dispicable me chart copy
Minions tick chart

We should heavily integrate reinforcement with our teaching, it really is so important for the acquisition of new skills. BUT, it has to be used correctly. Firstly, identifying potent
reinforcers. Secondly, reinforce appropriate behaviours. As much as we want to reinforce
socially significant behaviours, I commonly see problem behaviours accessing reinforcement.
Here’s a couple of examples of appropriate and inappropriate reinforcement;

  • I tell a joke, you laugh, I am more likely to tell that joke again – your laughing was reinforcement for my joke telling behaviour.
  • A therapist places a demand on a learner, the learner flops to the floor, the demand is removed, the learner is more likely to flop when a demand is presented – removal of a demand reinforced flopping behaviour.
  • A therapist asks the learner to wave, the learner waves, a preferred toy is presented, the learner is more likely to wave when asked in the future – the toy reinforced the learners waving behaviour.


Reinforcement can be positive or negative; this doesn’t mean bad or good. Positive reinforcement is the addition of something to increase the future likelihood of behaviour – think reward (e.g. getting tickled). Negative reinforcement is the removal of something to increase future likelihood of a behaviour – think relief (e.g. taking paracetemol to remove a headache increases the future likelihood of taking paracetemol when you have a headache).


I will always strive to teach learners through positive reinforcement, rather than negative reinforcement. If you’re learner is answering demands and then running away from you, then negative reinforcement is likely in play. When you’re learner is coming back for more, you know you’re smashing it!


I’ve found that a common problem with reinforcement is people thinking that what they’re delivering should be reinforcing, but it isn’t actually serving that function. Mind sets such as ‘all kids like sweets’, or ‘who doesn’t like playdoh?’, lead to ineffective attempts at reinforcement.


Something else which often happens is that people say ‘well they sat there for ages playing with it, it must be reinforcing’, again not always true. It may be that the learner is happy to have the item, but not to the extent which they are willing to emit an effortful response for it. Accepting something for ‘free’ doesn’t mean it will be a reinforcer. An example; I offer you £10 for free, you’d probably take it, but if I said clean my football boots after every game for a year, the £10 may loose it’s relative value altogether. 


Being too conventional can sometimes hold people back. Here are 6 good pointers to help identify reinforcers:

outside box
Think outside the box!
  1. Think outside the box
  2. Relax and have fun
  3. Be a kid
  4. Think about how your learner likes things, not how you like them
  5. Follow the learners motivation
  6. Be determined, don’t get disheartened!


I think the key is not letting yourself get complacent, it can be tough sometimes, getting in to routines, using the same items, especially if you’ve worked with the learner for a long time, but challenge yourself to constantly find new reinforcers, and fade it out where appropriate.

A few key things to consider when delivering reinforcement;

  1. Immediacy – deliver it as soon after the target behaviour as you can
  2. Magnitude – how much will you deliver (5 seconds on the iPad vs 30 seconds on the iPad, 1 sweet vs 3 sweets, a tickle vs a tickle, bouncy ball, and bubbles).
  3. Follow the learners’ motivation
  4. Reinforce behaviours, not learners
  5. Reinforce appropriate behaviours


Our goal is to equip learners with the skills they need to be an independent learner. In order to do this, it’s likely we’ll have to fade reinforcement over time, so that learning continues through naturally occurring reinforcement (e.g. gold stars, getting 10/10, social praise, merits, house points). This has to be done systematically and monitored carefully.


Sometimes we work with learners who make it easy for us, who already have a range of established reinforcers, and even love social praise. But others make us work for it, not liking much, and certainly not making it obvious what they do like. It’s up to us to step up and find out what they like, constantly analysing, trying everything and anything in all possible ways, and trying to build motivation.


All of these things may be obvious, and you may say its ‘common sense’, but this can be misused quite often. It is sense, but it’s not always common sense. Effective therapists and consultants will constantly be analysing reinforcement. It really is so important.


(Check out Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2014 for more about reinforcement)